Be Well

Women’s Health: Balancing Women’s Hormones

By Dr. Amanda Hegnauer, ND, Naturopathic Doctor & Co-op Wellness Educator

Balancing hormones is like an intricate dance. It takes time, dedication and persistence to find the right balance. However, with success, you feel elated as all the pieces come together in one elegant movement. Like in dance, there are certain aspects of rehearsal that are rather uncomfortable to mention. As a dancer may not want to talk about the time he or she fell at center stage, a woman may not feel comfortable discussing her menstrual cycle, going through menopause, or how it emotionally affects her and her family.

There are many factors that affect the menstrual cycle. Diet and nutrition are vital to one’s level of energy. In addition, exercise and movement – too much or too little – can cause menstrual irregularity. A woman with low body weight may develop amenorrhea (no menstruation). However, an overweight woman is more likely to develop polycystic ovarian syndrome. Nevertheless, not every hormone disruption is age or body-type specific.

A great example of this is stress. The effect of stress on ovarian hormone balance is not age related. The cycle goes something like this: Most women have stress on a daily basis, and prolonged stress can lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that balances your body’s physiology during time of stress. In an attempt to control cortisol production, the body converts progesterone to cortisol, this leaves estrogen and progesterone out of balance. Unfortunately, this is increasingly common as a source of hormonal disruption for all ages of women.

How do we stabilize an imbalance? Herbs and bioidentical hormone therapy are two great options. These two therapies can be used separately or together. Herbs are utilized because there are many combinations and they can be individualized based on the patient and their imbalance. An example of a good combination is as follows: rhodiola, chaste tree berry (also called vitex), and ashwagandha. Rhodiola stabilizes mood and is also an adaptogenic herb (non-toxic substance that helps the body resist the damaging effects of stress). It helps the adrenal gland to heal and continue to produce cortisol as needed. Chaste tree berry stabilizes the estrogen/progesterone ratio while ashwagandha helps balance stress hormones.

If bioidentical hormones are recommended, there are a few different avenues to consider. Bioidentical estrogen is made from soy and made to look exactly like your own hormone; hence the term “bioidentical.” Because of the base, the hormones are safer and the body uses a smaller dose more efficiently than traditional hormone replacement therapies.

Progesterone is always used to balance estrogens. Natural progesterone is made in a lab from wild yam. Bioidentical hormones can be administered orally, transdermally, or sublingually. They are perhaps a better choice than progestin or equine estrogens as the latter have been shown to double the risk of breast cancer; however, they are uterine protective. Progestin is a synthetic form of progesterone found in popular birth control pills. Progestin side effects include bloating and fluid retention, acne, hair loss, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and depression.
Although you can find herbs as well as progesterone creams made from wild yam at the Co-op, bioidentical hormones require working with a naturopathic or holistically minded doctor who will prescribe the precise balance needed for your body. Even with over-the-counter options, hormone balance can be tricky, and a practitioner’s guidance is helpful.

Treatment of hormone imbalance should be individualized. What is the safest and most effective fit for you? When balancing female hormones through natural therapies, it important to remove any obstacles affecting hormone secretion, metabolism, and function. Consider stress, body weight, nutrition, and exposure to xenoestrogens. (Xenoestrogens are synthetic hormones that imitate estrogen and tend to have negative effects on hormone balance and increase disease risk. Common sources include most plastics, BPA, PCBs, and phthalates.) Furthermore, search for and address other hormone imbalances like thyroid and adrenal concerns. Every organ system is separate within the body; however, each plays a part of the elaborate dance that goes on within.

Dr. Hegnauer sees clients at Whole Health Concord. Learn more at
She also sees clients at Cougar Sound Spirits Healing Center in North Sutton. Learn more at

The statements made on this blog have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, prescribe, recommend, or offer medical advice. Please see your health care practitioner for help regarding choices and to avoid herb-drug interactions.